Hyundai and Kia are technically separate companies, with Hyundai owning less than 50% of its junior partner. But as the two major divisions of the Hyundai-Kia Motor Group, the two firms share resources and align their strategies through carefully-maintained relationships in the classic Korean chaebol (conglomerate) fashion. Hyundai has long been the senior partner in the relationship, getting the newest technologies and the most expensive new cars. But in both Korea and abroad, Kia is beginning to catch up with its big brother, raising questions about the future shape of its delicate relationship. Together, Hyundai and Kia enjoy a dominant position in Korea, earning 45.2% and 33.2% of the overall Korean market in 2010 (including commercial vehicles). But if you just look at sedans and SUVs, the Korea Herald reports that their 2010 market share numbers are much closer: 39.6% and 35/7% respectively, and converging
Hyundai Motor Group is focusing on the possibility that Kia will catch up with Hyundai within one year in terms of monthly market share ― for sales of sedans and sport utility vehicles ― domestically for the first time…
The gap for sales of sedans and SUVs have continued to narrow ― 22.9 percentage points in 2007, 17 percentage points in 2008, 15.4 percentage points in 2009 and 3.9 percentage points in 2010.
And this fresh-brewed sibling rivalry isn’t just about Korea: around the world, Kia is catching up. And this shifting relationship is shaking things up at the highest levels of the group’s leadership.
The national character of auto brands is a tricky thing. For decades, Volvo wore its Swedishness on its sleeve, emphasizing the values that made Ikea, Abba and Swedish porn so popular in the US… even when it was an outpost of the Ford empire. And then the unthinkable happened: Chinese up-and-comer Li Shufu bought the brand and rolled it into his Geely empire. In the world of national-character-branding, being bought by a Chinese firm is something like hiring Casey Anthony as a brand ambassador, or using a mascot called “Mr Melamine Milk” (another nightmare scenario can be found here). So, how does a brand like Volvo, that was built on Swedishness, get past the “China Factor”? By doubling down on Swedishness? How about by building cars in the US?
Bloomberg reports that Fiat is considering moving production of planned Alfa/Jeep-branded compact CUVs from its Italian Mirafiori plant to the US, as a rising Euro forces tough production choices. Production of some 280,000 units per year were planned to start at Mirafiori in late 2012, but Fiat may now build an as-yet unannounced subcompact there instead. According to Bloomberg’s reporting, Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio
Marchionne, while confirming his commitment to invest at the Turin facility, told Piedmont Region President Roberto Cota Aug. 29 that he may change the production plans for the plant.
“Fiat is evaluating which model it will build at Mirafiori,” Cota said after meeting the CEO.
Startlingly, the most fuel efficient petrol car in the country, which is the most inexpensive too isn’t finding takers in a market troubled by high petrol prices and rising loan interest rates, that is clearly favoring cheaper and more fuel efficient cars… the market isn’t biting and the Nano sales have begun the downward spiral, this time continually.
So, what’s Tata going to fix to get its attempt at “India’s Model T” back off the ground. How about “everything”?
I spotted this Opel Vivaro CDTI on the University of Illinois campus.
How did this apparently-European vehicle end up in Illinois? Opel’s website suggests that they don’t do business in Canada, but this Vivaro has Quebec license plates, and a stuffed animal in the window that suggests it is a personal vehicle.
Does anyone have any idea how such a vehicle could end up legally touring the American Midwest with Canadian plates? What say you, readers of TTAC?
Saab has started paying suppliers again (although production hasn’t restarted yet), and CEO Victor Muller is once again all popped-collar confidence as he dismisses the “speed bump” that he blames on negative publicity. But behind Mueller’s yacht-club breeziness and talk of “true Saabs,” major changes are afoot in Saab’s business model. Saab’s deal with Hawtai, the product of a desperate search for support in the midst of a liquidity crisis, has changed how Muller sees the global car business, and as a result he’s shopping what may be Saab’s last meaningful asset: Western dealerships. Muller explains his thinking to Automotive News [sub]
We laughed when the Japanese came. We laughed when the Koreans came. But we will not be laughing when the Chinese come. The Chinese are like a steamroller. It took 67 years to build up our dealer network. It is the biggest asset not on our asset sheet, and these guys buy into it for free. If they make the proper cars, can you image how much simpler it will be to push product through the distribution network that is already there? It is like a railway network that is already there.
Bertel and I have a running bet about whether the first actual Chinese import to the US (not a converted glider) will be a Chinese brand or one of the western brands… but it’s not much of a bet because neither of us can ever commit to picking one brand that seems most likely to bust America’s Chinese car cherry, and our “bets” change on a weekly basis. In any case, though, think it’s safe to say that neither of us saw Saab as playing much of a role in any of the scenarios we’ve discussed.
Speaking from Shanghai, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland tells Bloomberg that “a number” of Chinese automakers have expressed interest in selling their products in the US, to which the auto safety regulator says:
When they offer their vehicle for sale, we will treat them like we will treat any company whether it is a Detroit company or a Japanese company or a Chinese company.
Strickland identified GM’s partner SAIC as one company that was interested in US sales, although the automaker says it’s waiting until it has “more suitable product” for the market. Chinese auto exports currently make up only 3 percent of production, a number the Chinese government wants to increase to 20 percent by 2012-2015. Separately, SAIC announced this week that it plans to invest some $1.85b into its hybrid, electric and fuel-cell technologies.
Despite fears of building overcapacity in the Chinese market, GM is still very much enamored of its chances in the Middle Kingdom. Terry Johnsson, vice president of the automaker’s China operations tells Reuters
We sold everything we could build in 2010 and the same holds true in 2011. We could actually sell more than we will be able to (build) if we are not capacity constrained. We are actually short of capacity. The total business is going to go up by the size of a single plant. It’s not just about this year. We’ll have to look about a real rapid increase in our capacity
After all, the Chinese market may have slowed to a “mere” 10-15%, but GM’s sales were up by 20% last year as foreign automakers solidified their hold on the Chinese market. And even if the Chinese market does hit a wall (crazier things have happened), China’s desire to boost exports of its domestically-produced cars will help justify further investments in Chinese production capacity. Johnsson adds that GM will a “substantial amount” of its made-in-China Chevy Sail to emerging markets over the coming years, a decision that further justifies an investment in Chinese capacity. Only 5k Sails were exported last year (to Chile), but exports should rise to 20k units this year. Still, even those increased numbers pale in comparison to Chevy’s 125,625 Sails sold in China last year. But GM is already looking at shipping knock-down kits of the Sail abroad as it looks to increase Sail exports beyond even the 20k units planned for next year. After all, if The General has to bump UAW workers into the second tier to build subcompact cars in the US, production of low-cost cars like the Sail will have to stay in China for the forseeable future.
Another American car company rides to the rescue of China’s feared, but so far dismal car exports. Ford is in talks with its Chinese Joint venture partner Changan to export China-made Ford vehicles to emerging markets, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. (Read More…)
Doesn’t it bug you when other countries give their carmakers money? Doesn’t it bug you a hell of a lot when other countries give their carmakers money with they express purpose to increase exports? Shouldn’t those felonious countries be dragged in front of the WTO and shot? Well, there are exceptions. (Read More…)
Japans currency rose to a 14-year high against the dollar last week, prompting fears that the island nation’s exports could be dramatically affected. And no firm stands to lose as much Toyota, which had been operating under the highest assumed exchange rate of any of Japan’s auto exporters. Reuters reports that ToMoCo had pegged the rate at 90 yen to the dollar, some five yen higher than rivals Honda and Nissan. With the Yen trading at 86.29 to the dollar, that assumption could add up to big losses: Toyota reckons that for every one yen drop against the dollar, operating profits will decline some 30b Yen due to the fact that it exports over half of its Japanese-made automobiles, most of which head to market in the US. Aizawa Securities analyst Toshiro Yashinaga explains that Toyota, more than any other Japanese firm, is riding the razor’s edge.
Carmakers that issued big profit warnings last year have set cautious forex assumptions this time, so roughly speaking the current rates are within expectations. But there are views that the dollar could sink even further in 2010, to the 70s (yen), and in that sense Honda and Nissan, which are relatively strong in emerging markets, are in the winning camp
Japan’s government has thus far resisted calls to intervene in the Yen’s exchange rate. As if Toyota’s heavy exposure to the moribund US market weren’t bad enough, exchange rate uncertainty could make Toyota’s second-straight loss even worse than expected when the firm announces its fiscal year-end results in March.
China may be the world’s largest auto market until further notice. Its much feared auto exports however are nothing to write home about. In fact, China’s already measly car exports have declined for 14 consecutive months since August 2008. For the first half of this year, China exported only 191,000 units. This in a market that is expected to be good for 12m units domestically. Other countries, such as Germany and Japan, typically export the same number of cars they consume at home. A good deal of the few vehicles that are exported from China are commercial and utility vehicles, sold to underdeveloped markets.
Two months ago, Zhao Hang, President of the China Automotive Technology and Research Center, blamed quality and after-sale service problems for the underwhelming performance. He also said that Chinese auto exporters lack knowledge of overseas demand, government policies, regulations and certification.
The Chinese government can’t stand it any longer. (Read More…)